Rajnish Kumar, the chairman- designate of State Bank of India, today listed tackling NPAs and improving profitability as his top priorities.
Government cleared three-year appointment of the 59-year-old Kumar last evening. He will take the charge from incumbent Arundhati Bhattacharya on October 7 to become 25th chairman of the nation's largest lender.
Currently, Kumar is in-charge of retail banking as managing director.
"Resolving stressed assets is the top priority of the bank. Bad loans need to be resolved on an urgent basis as it will help in reviving the economy," Kumar said here today.
He expressed hope that going forward, NPAs of the bank are likely to be better. "The bank is already working on resolving the issues around corporate credit and soon you will see some changes on that front," he said.
In the three months to June, SBI's gross NPAs rose to 9.97 per cent from 7.40 per cent and net NPAs jumped to 5.97 per cent from 4.36 per cent. Retail NPAs grew 1.56 per cent to Rs 7,632 crore, while bad loans in the agri book grew 9.51 per cent to Rs 17,988 crore.
Earlier this year, SBI merged its five associate banks with itself, catapulting it into the league of top 50 global banks with close to USD 550 billion in assets.
Kumar said he would like the bank to maintain the position but will focus on making it financially stronger than just increasing the balance sheet size. "In the past couple of years because of the provisioning requirements our performance has been affected. My effort will be to improve our profitability rather than chasing size," he said.
Kumar also hinted at some rejig in the mid-level management by segregating management team.
"Currently, lot of our time goes into tackling stressed assets and their resolution. We are thinking how to segregate them so that stressed assets is looked after by one management team, and another one driving the lending activities. We will soon finalise it."
Identifying infrastructure and retail sectors as areas with huge opportunities, he said, "There is definitely a change in the underwriting standards. We will be much more cautious. Sometimes people equate it with risk aversion, but let me tell you it is not risk aversion. We are still looking for opportunities in financing good infrastructure projects." He said the bank does not need further capital till March 2019. "We will be able to manage our credit growth with our current capital position."
When asked about yesterday's RBI proposal to introduce external benchmark rates which will be linked to lending rates for better transmission of monetary policy, he said SBI is open to it.
"The only thing is if banks' credit costs are elevated, they should have sufficient net interest margins to cover those costs. If it is benchmark rate, then it cannot be only for lending, deposits have also to be repriced with the benchmark rate.
"If there is stress in the system and credit costs are elevated, where is the scope to reduce the NIM. If we reduce the NIM, then from where we will be able to cover our cost, and how will we provide for the stressed assets. Whatever the benchmark rate we will use, we have to use it for asset as well as liability side," Kumar argued.
Kumar succeeds Bhattacharya who completes her four year-term including the one-year extension on October 6.
Having joined as a probationary officer in 1980, Kumar rose to become a chief general manager, project finance and leasing strategic business unit, after which he held several key assignments across various business verticals, including two overseas assignments in Canada and Britain as managing director of SBI Caps.
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